Thai people

This article is about Thailand's ethnic majority. For other Tai ethnic groups, see Tai peoples. For the population of Thailand in general, see Demographics of Thailand.

Thai people at cremation ceremony
Total population
(c. 70 million)
Regions with significant populations
 Thailand c. 51–57.8 million[nb 1][1][2][3]
 United States 237,583[4] (2010)
 Laos 180,000[5]
 South Korea 94,134[6] (2014)
 Taiwan 74,770[7] (2011)
 Malaysia 70,000[8] (2014)
 Australia 61,910[9] (2014)
 Germany 58,784[10](2007)
 United Kingdom 44,086 (2011)
 Japan 41,279[11] (2010)
 Sweden 38,129 (2014)[12]
 Hong Kong 30,000[13]
 Saudi Arabia 23,000[14]
 Netherlands 19,513 (2016)[15]
 Norway 17,550[16] (2016)
 Canada 17,500[17] (2006)
 Singapore 16,251[18]
  Switzerland 16,034[18]
 Cambodia 14,265[18]
 Denmark 9,851[18]
 Indonesia 9,469[18]
 Finland 9,412[18]
 Vietnam 4,844[18]
 Austria 4,708[18]
 Brunei 4,164[18]
 New Zealand 4,143[18]
 UAE 4,058[18]
Rest of the world c. 47,000[18]
Thai languages (Siamese, Dambro, Lanna, Isan)
Predominantly Theravada Buddhism with Hindu influence
Related ethnic groups
other Tai peoples (e.g. Lao people, Shan people, Dai people, Zhuang people, Ahom people); Thai Chinese

The Thai people (Thai: ไทยสยาม), formerly known as Siamese, are the main ethnic group of Thailand and are part of the larger Tai ethnolinguistic peoples found in Thailand and adjacent countries in Southeast Asia as well as southern China and Northeast India. Their language is the Thai language, which exists in different regional variants,[19] and is classified as part of the Tai–Kadai family of languages, and the majority of Thai are followers of Theravada Buddhism.

"Thai people" usually includes central and southern Thai (Siamese proper, or Tai Siam[20][21][22][23][24]), northern Thai (Lanna) and Isan people.[2][25]

The term Thai people has a loose meaning and sometimes also refers to the population of Thailand in general, and not only to ethnic Thais.


There have been many theories proposing the origin of the Tai peoples, of which the Thai are a subgroup. Especially the association of the Tai people with the Kingdom of Nanzhao that has been proved to be invalid. Linguistic studies suggested[26] that the origin of the Tai people lies around the Chinese Province of Guangxi, where the Zhuang people are still a majority. The ancient Tai people should be the part of Chinese Nanyue, referred to by Han leaders as "foreign servant" (Chinese: ), synecdoche for a vassal state. The Qin dynasty founded Guangdong in 214 BC, initiating the successive waves of Chinese migrations from the north for hundreds of years to come.

With the political and cultural pressures from the north, some Tai peoples migrated south[27] where they met the classical Indianized civilizations of Southeast Asia. According to linguistic and other historical evidence, the southwestward migration of Tai-speaking tribes from Guangxi took place sometime between the 8th-10th centuries.[28]

The Tais from the north gradually settled in the Chao Phraya valley from the tenth century onwards, in lands of the Dvaravati culture, assimilating the earlier Austroasiatic Mon and Khmer people, as well as coming into contact with the Khmer Empire. The Tais who came to the area of present-day Thailand were engulfed into the Theravada Buddhism of the Mon and the Hindu-Khmer culture and statecraft. Therefore, the Thai culture is a mixture of Tai traditions with Indic, Mon, and Khmer influcences.[29]

Early Thai chiefdoms included the Sukhothai Kingdom and Suphan Buri Province. The Lavo Kingdom, which was the center of Khmer culture in Chao Phraya valley, was also the rallying point for the Thais. The Thai were called "Siam" by the Angkorians and they appeared on the bas relief at Angkor Wat as a part of the army of Lavo Kingdom. Sometimes the Thai chiefdoms in the Chao Phraya valley were put under the Angkorian control under strong monarchs (including Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII) but they were mostly independent.

A new city-state known as Ayutthaya, named after the Indian city of Ayodhya,[30] was founded by Ramathibodi and emerged as the center of the growing Thai empire starting in 1350. Inspired by the then Hindu-based Khmer Empire (Cambodia), the Ayutthaya empire's continued conquests led to more Thai settlements as the Khmer empire weakened after their defeat at Angkor in 1431. During this period, the Thai developed a feudal system as various vassal states paid homage to the Thai kings. Even as Thai power expanded at the expense of the Mon and Khmer, the Thai Ayutthaya faced setbacks at the hands of the Malays at Malacca and were checked by the Toungoo of Burma.

Other peoples living under Thai rule, mainly Mon, Khmer, and Lao, as well as Chinese, Indian or Muslim immigrants continued to be assimilated by Thais, but at the same time they influenced Thai culture, philosophy, economy and politics. Most of today's Thais are of mixed descent. Therefore, Thai ethnicity is rather a question of cultural identity than of genetic origin.[31] The biggest and most influential group are Thais of Chinese origin. The share of Thais who are of full or partly Chinese descent is at about 40%.[32]

Though sporadic wars continued with the Burmese and other neighbors, Chinese wars with Burma and European intervention elsewhere in Southeast Asia allowed the Thai to develop an independent course by trading with the Europeans as well as playing the major powers against each other in order to remain independent. The Chakkri dynasty under Rama I held the Burmese at bay, while Rama II and Rama III helped to shape much of Thai society, but also led to Thai setbacks as the Europeans moved into areas surrounding modern Thailand and curtailed any claims the Thai had over Cambodia, in dispute with Burma and Vietnam. The Thai learned from European traders and diplomats, while maintaining an independent course. Chinese, Malay, and British influences helped to further shape the Thai people who often assimilated foreign ideas, but managed to preserve much of their culture and resisted the European colonization that engulfed their neighbors. Thailand is also the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized by European powers in modern history.

The concept of a Thai nation was not developed until the beginning 20th century under King Rama VI (Vajiravudh). Before this era, Thai did not even have a word for 'nation'. He also imposed the idea of "Thai-ness" (khwam-pen-thai) on his subjects and strictly defined what was "Thai" and "un-Thai". Authors of this period re-wrote Thai history from an ethno-nationalist viewpoint, disregarding the fact that the concept of ethnicity had not played an important role in Southeast Asia until the 19th century.[33][34] This newly developed nationalism was the base of the policy of "Thaification" of Thailand which was intensified after the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and especially under the rule of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram (1938–1944). Minorities were forced to assimilate and regional peculiarities of northern, northeastern and southern Thailand were repressed in favour of one homogenous "Thai" culture.[35] As a result, many citizens of Thailand do not distinguish between their nationality (san-chat) and ethnic origin (chuea-chat).[31]

Geography and demographics

Thai People Abroad.

The vast majority of the Thai people live in Thailand, although some Thais can also be found in other parts of Southeast Asia. About 60 million live in Thailand alone,[36] while thousands can also be found in the United States, China, Laos, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Burma, the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Libya, and the United Arab Emirates.

Culture and society

Main article: Culture of Thailand

The Thais can be broken down into various regional groups with their own regional varieties of Thai. These groups include central Thai (also the standard variety of the language), the Isan (more closely related to the standard Lao of Laos than to standard Thai), Lanna Thai and southern Thai. Modern central Thai has become more dominant due to official government policy, which was designed to assimilate and unify the disparate Thai in spite of ethnolinguistic and cultural ties between the northeastern Thai people and the people from Laos.

Indigenous arts include muay Thai (kick boxing), Thai dance, makruk (Thai Chess), and nang yai (shadow play).


The modern Thai are predominantly Theravada Buddhist and strongly identify their ethnic identity with their religious practices that include aspects of ancestor worship, among other beliefs of the ancient folklore of Thailand. Thais predominantly (more than 90%) avow themselves Buddhists. Since the rule of King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and again since the "orthodox reformation" of King Mongkut in the 19th century, it is modeled on the "original" Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism. The Thais' folk belief however is a syncretic blend of the official Buddhist teachings, animistic elements that trace back to the original beliefs of Tai peoples, and Brahmin-Hindu elements[37] from India, partly inherited from the Hindu Khmer Empire of Angkor.[38]

The belief in local, nature and household spirits, that influence secular issues like health or prosperity, as well as ghosts (Thai: phi, ผี) is widespread. It is visible, for example, in so-called spirit houses (san phra phum) that may be found near many homes. Phi play an important role in local folklore, but also in modern popular culture, like television series and films. "Ghost films" (nang phi) are a distinct, important genre of Thai cinema.[39]

Hinduism has left substantial and present marks on Thai culture. Some Thais worship Hindu gods like Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu, or Brahma (e.g., at Bangkok's well-known Erawan Shrine). They do not see a contradiction between this practice and their primary Buddhist faith.[40] The Thai national epic Ramakien is an adaption of the Hindu Ramayana. Hindu mythological figures like Devas, Yakshas, Nagas, gods and their mounts (vahana) characterise the mythology of Thais and are often depicted in Thai art, even as decoration of Buddhist temples.[41] Thailand's national symbol Garuda is taken from Hindu mythology as well.[42]

A characteristic feature of Thai Buddhism is the practice of tham bun (ทำบุญ) ("merit-making"). This can be done mainly by food and in-kind donations to monks, contributions to the renovation and adornment of temples, releasing captive creatures (fish, birds), etc. Moreover, many Thais idolise famous and charismatic monks,[43] who may be credited with thaumaturgy or with the status of a perfected Buddhist saint (Arahant). Other significant features of Thai popular belief are astrology, numerology, talismans and amulets[44] (often images of the revered monks)[45]

Besides Thailand's two million Muslim Malays, there are an additional two million ethnic Thais who profess Islam, especially in the south, but also in greater Bangkok. As a result of missionary work, there is also a minority of approximately 500,000 Christian Thais: Catholics and various Protestant denominations.

See also


  1. Thai people make up approximately 75–85% population of the country (68 million). Includes Northern Thai and Southern Thai.


  1. McCargo, D.; Hongladarom, K. (2004). "Contesting Isan‐ness: Discourses of politics and identity in Northeast Thailand" (PDF). Asian Ethnicity. 5 (2): 219. doi:10.1080/1463136042000221898.
  2. 1 2 David Levinson (1998), Ethnic Groups Worldwide: A Ready Reference Handbook, Oryx Pres, p. 287, ISBN 1573560197
  3. Paul, Lewis M.; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D. (2013), Ethnologue: Languages of the World, SIL International, ISBN 978-1-55671-216-6
  4. Elizabeth M. Hoeffel, Sonya Rastogi, Myoung Ouk Kim, and Hasan Shahid, "The Asian Population: 2010", 2010 Census Briefs, United States Census Bureau, March 2012, p. 14.
  7. 內政部入出國及移民署全球資訊網 ─ 100年12月
  8. Nop Nai Samrong (8 January 2014). "SIAMESE MALAYSIANS: They are part of our society". New Straits Times. Archived from the original on 8 January 2014. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  9. Australian Bureau of Statistics. "Estimated Resident Population by Country of Birth - 1992 to 2014" (ABS.stat). Retrieved 9 February 2015. External link in |website= (help)
  12. "Utrikes födda i riket efter födelseland, ålder och kön. År 2000 - 2014". Statistics Sweden. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 "Trends in International Migrant Stock: Migrants by Destination and Origin" (XLSX). United Nations. 1 December 2015. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  19. Antonio L. Rappa; Lionel Wee (2006), Language Policy and Modernity in Southeast Asia: Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, Springer, pp. 114–115
  20. Cheesman, P. (1988). Lao textiles: ancient symbols-living art. Bangkok, Thailand: White Lotus Co., Thailand.
  21. Fox, M. (1997). A history of Laos. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  22. Fox, M. (2008). Historical Dictionary of Laos (3rd ed.). Lanham: Scarecrow Press.
  23. Goodden, C. (1999). Around Lan-na: a guide to Thailand's northern border region from Chiang Mai to Nan. Halesworth, Suffolk: Jungle Books.
  24. Wijeyewardene, G. (1990). Ethnic groups across national boundaries in mainland Southeast Asia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  25. Barbara A. West (2009), Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania, Facts on File, p. 794, ISBN 1438119135
  26. Luo, Wei; Hartmann, John; Li, Jinfang; Sysamouth, Vinya (December 2000). "GIS Mapping and Analysis of Tai Linguistic and Settlement Patterns in Southern China" (PDF). Geographic Information Sciences. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University. 6 (2): 129136. Retrieved May 28, 2013. Abstract. By integrating linguistic information and physical geographic features in a GIS environment, this paper maps the spatial variation of terms connected with wet-rice farming of Tai minority groups in southern China and shows that the primary candidate of origin for proto-Tai is in the region of Guangxi-Guizhou, not Yunnan or the middle Yangtze River region as others have proposed....
  27. Du Yuting; Chen Lufan (1989). "Did Kublai Khan's Conquest of the Dali Kingdom Give Rise to the Mass Migration of the Thai People to the South?" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Heritage Trust. JSS Vol. 77.1c (digital). image 7 of p. 39. Retrieved March 17, 2013. The Thai people in the north as well as in the south did not in any sense "migrate en masse to the south" after Kublai Khan's conquest of the Dali Kingdom.
  28. Pittayaporn, Pittayawat (2014). Layers of Chinese Loanwords in Proto-Southwestern Tai as Evidence for the Dating of the Spread of Southwestern Tai. MANUSYA: Journal of Humanities, Special Issue No 20: 47-64.
  29. Charles F. Keyes (1997), "Cultural Diversity and National Identity in Thailand", Government policies and ethnic relations in Asia and the Pacific, MIT Press, p. 203
  31. 1 2 Thak Chaloemtiarana (2007), Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism, Ithaca, NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program, pp. 245–246, ISBN 978-0-8772-7742-2
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  33. Tejapira, Kasian (2003), "De-Othering Jek Communists: Rewriting Thai History from the Viewpoint of the Ethno-Ideological Order", Southeast Asia Over Three Generations: Essays Presented to Benedict R. O'G. Anderson, Ithaca, NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program, p. 247
  34. Thanet Aphornsuvan (1998), "Slavery and Modernity: Freedom in the Making of Modern Siam", Asian Freedoms: The Idea of Freedom in East and Southeast Asia, Cambridge University Press, p. 181
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  36. "CIA - The World Factbook". Retrieved 2012-08-29. 95.9% of 67,497,151 (July 2013 est.)
  37. Patit Paban Mishra (2010), The History of Thailand, Greenwood, p. 11
  38. S.N. Desai (1980), Hinduism in Thai Life, Bombay: Popular Prakashan Private
  39. Pattana Kitiarsa (2011), "The Horror of the Modern: Violation, Violence and Rampaging Urban Youths in Contemporary Thai Ghost Films", Engaging the Spirit World: Popular Beliefs and Practices in Modern Southeast Asia, Berghahn Books, pp. 200–220
  40. Patit Paban Mishra (2010), The History of Thailand, Greenwood, pp. 11–12
  41. Desai (1980), Hinduism in Thai Life, p. 63
  42. Desai (1980), Hinduism in Thai Life, p. 26
  43. Kate Crosby (2014), Theravada Buddhism: Continuity, Diversity, and Identity, Chichester (West Sussex): Wiley Blackwell, p. 277
  44. Timothy D. Hoare (2004), Thailand: A Global Studies Handbook, Santa Barbara CA: ABC-CLIO, p. 144
  45. Justin Thomas McDaniel (2011), The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand, New York: Columbia University Press
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